Study finds diet, activity can keep mind healthy

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By Charlie Breitrose/Daily News staff
MetroWest Daily News
Posted Jun 04, 2008 @ 12:26 AM

FRAMINGHAM “” Eating right, keeping mentally and physically active and visiting with friends will help older people maintain their memory and have happier lives, according to a study run at a local senior living community.

The Brain Health Pilot Study included residents from Summerville at Farm Pond in Framingham, said Assistant Executive Director Jack Burt, who coordinated the program. The results were very encouraging, especially when looking at the people’s ability to recall information.

“Their ability to retain information over a period of time improved from beginning to the end of the six-week study, which is an astounding finding for us,” Burt said.

The program, completed by a dozen residents aged 80 to 95, was designed by clinical neuropsychologist Dr. Paul Nussbaum, an adjunct professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. The Framingham facility was chosen from almost 300 senior facilities run by Emeritus Assisted Living Corp., Burt said.

Over a six-week period, the group of residents at Summerville’s independent living facility ate a special diet to focus on nutrition, and they took part in activities honing in on four areas – social, physical, spiritual and mental stimulation.

“Every day, seven days a week, they had their diet controlled, and they had three to five hours of different activities … based around around five key factors,” Burt said.

Some activities included group exercising, yoga, journal writing, learning Portuguese and group socials, Burt said.

In the beginning, 16 residents were chosen at random, Burt said, but some could not complete the program for a variety of reasons.

The residents took tests to measure a variety of physical and mental health factors before and after completing the program, Burt said. One was focused on the Hopkins Verbal Learning Test, which measures a person’s ability to recall words from a list of 12 read aloud by the test administrator.

Results on this test improved after the six-week program, Burt said.

Along with improving their ability to remember things, those who took part in the study also had an improved outlook on life, Burt said.

“In the quality-of-life measure there was a drastic and group-wide improvement,” Burt said. “From their perception, as well as what the staff observed, they were happier and less depressed. They found purpose in their lives.”

The group of residents in the study continues to socialize and take part in activities together, Burt said.

“These folks have incredible lust for this program,” Burt said. “They are all great friends, they meet on a regular basis. Their quality of life improved, which is definitely the most rewarding thing for us.”

Results of the study will be presented by Nussbaum today at Summerville at Farm Pond.

With the success of residents in Summerville’s independent living area, staff will now try to adapt it for those in the assisted living, memory care and dementia areas, Burt said.

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